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Salem senior center to raise fees for nonresidents

SALEM — With a larger percentage of out-of-town residents joining in on the fun at the Ingram Senior Center recently, town officials said they have no choice but to raise annual membership fees again for nonresidents.

During Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Patti Drelick, senior services director, said the number of seniors from neighboring towns who participate in Salem’s programs has been on the rise over the past two years.

Though the ratio of Salem residents to nonresidents remains relatively low, Drelick said she’s still concerned. Of the 175 people who have joined the senior center so far this year, 54 don’t live in Salem.

The Ingram Senior Center has a total of 2,550 registered members as of this month, including 415 nonresidents.

Salem residents aren’t asked to pay membership fees, though Drelick said “many of them have told me they’d have no problem doing so if they were asked.”

Around this time last year, the Salem Council on Aging recommended increasing nonresident membership fees by $5 each year for the next five years.

At the time, the nonresident membership fee was $25 and that fee had remained the same for the five years prior, when the town began charging out-of-towners wishing to attend Salem senior programs.

In June 2012, the Board of Selectmen voted to increase the nonresident fee to $30 for the following year.

After a lengthy discussion Monday night, the board opted to increase membership fees by another $5 in the coming year. Beginning Aug. 1, nonresidents will pay $35 annually to use the Ingram Senior Center.

Selectman Patrick Hargreaves said the fee was still a “pretty great bargain” for nonresidents.

“You can’t compare our senior center to anywhere else within a 40-mile radius,” Hargreaves said. “That’s why people keep coming here from Methuen and Lawrence, from Hampstead and Plaistow. We have more programs, we have a brand new dance floor. … Nobody’s gong to gripe about (the fees) and people are going to still keep coming.”

Selectman James Keller wondered whether the current senior center, located at Sally Sweets Way, would be large enough to accommodate growing demand.

“Are we getting to the point where we’d need to ration back on people from out of town?” he asked.

“Right now we’re very, very close to having that dialogue,” Drelick told him. “But the fee structure could help prevent us from needing to have that dialogue.”

As it stands now, Salem residents are given first priority when it comes to events and activities with a waiting list.

“Salem residents are always served first,” Drelick said.

Several weeks ago, when a new exercise program was immediately filled with Salem seniors, around 40 nonresidents were placed on a waiting list, she said.

“The good news is the nonresidents are very understanding,” Drelick said. ” I think this registration fee shows it is a privilege to take part in Salem taxpayers’ benefit.”

Drelick and the Board of Selectmen will discuss the topic further during the July 8 meeting, when Drelick presents her annual department

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